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Peachy crop expected at Jaemor
Farmers hope temperatures stay warm after Easter
Drew Echols talks about the peach crop at Jaemor Farms on Monday morning. - photo by Robin Michener Nathan
LULA — After a damaging Easter freeze in 2007, Drew Echols is optimistic about the 2008 peach crop at Jaemor Farms near Lula.

That freeze killed the buds and wiped out the harvest at the orchard his family owns. The same was true for most of the apple crop.

This year is a much different story.

"We’re pretty much right on schedule," Echols said. "They’re as close to being on time as they could possibly be."

Last year, unseasonably warm temperatures in February and March had the trees budding by April 8, when the hard freeze came.

This year, the peach trees have abundant pink blooms. Echols said the pruning process began in February and is nearing completion.

"We’ve got our chill hours. Normally, they won’t bloom unless they get their chill hours," he said.

Normally, the peach trees yield a harvest of 17,000 bushels between June and September. Last year, Echols said the entire harvest was just seven peaches.

The freeze had similar results in Georgia’s other peach growing areas, including Peach County in central Georgia, where 70 percent of the crop was destroyed.

Kathy Taylor, a specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service, was cautiously optimistic about the state’s crop on Monday.

"So far everything looks great," Taylor said. "Of course, I said the same thing at this time last year."

Although Easter falls much earlier this year, Taylor said it is a measuring point.

"The industry uses Easter as a marker," she said. "We’re anxious to get through this next weekend. It comes right after the vernal equinox, and, though there is not a lot of science to support it, the days get longer and the chance of freeze is not as great."

While Georgia is dubbed "The Peach State," California is the top state for peach production.

California accounted for 17 percent of total farms and 51 percent of total acres, while South Carolina accounted for 3 percent of total farms and 8 percent of total acres, followed by Georgia with 2 percent of total farms and 7 percent of total acreage.

Georgia produces 50 varieties of peaches and in a typical year ships 40 million pounds with a total farm value of $29 million to $72 million, depending on the market.

Taylor said the current blooming crop could withstand cold up to 28 degrees, but would be harmed if the weather gets any colder.

Echols’ Jaemor Farms is believed to be the northernmost orchard in the state. Most of the state’s peach production is in Middle Georgia in Peach County, near Fort Valley.

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